Evonne Blythers is an avid outdoorswoman. After a lifetime of recreation for her personal enjoyment she now helps others in her community experience nature in comfort and safety. Blythers is the director of the volunteer outdoor outreach organization “Keeping It Wild” in Atlanta, Georgia. She’s also a finalist for the Cox Conserves Heroes program in recognition for her work promoting diversity in the environmental protection movement.
In this interview Blythers shares her story.
~ Evonne is a finalist for Atlanta’s 2009 Cox Conserves Heroes program. The finalist with the most votes receives $5K to donate to their environmental nonprofit of choice. Please vote for Evonnne Blythers at http://tinyurl.com/l3p534 ~ voting ends August 31.
You’re in the business of getting my people of color into wild and scenic places. Where did your personal interest in outdoor recreation begin?
As a child playing outdoors daily. But when my family moved to Georgia, 16-years ago we discovered Georgia State Parks. It became an adventure to visit the parks because each park offered something different. We have enjoyed canoeing, biking, hiking, fishing, climbed canyons and mountains, viewed waterfalls and wildlife (dolphin, bear, deer, stinging caterpillar, alligator, bobcat, snakes, blue heron, owls, kingfisher and discovering African American history (http://tiny.cc/BlackHistory) all at state parks. We have slept in RV’s, tents, cabins and a yurt. And biannually we host a family reunion at a state park. I love sharing the great outdoors with others.
You operate a local hiking series called “Wild In The City.” What can you tell me about that program? How does your work there promote the outdoors to people who live in cities.
Our Hiking Series, “Wild in the City” has focused on hikes or outings that are accessible by public transportation. Our first outing was to Cascade Springs Nature Preserve a beautiful area that people past daily on the bus but few stop to visit http://tiny.cc/CascadeSprings.
There are apparently a lot of things that people would rather do than spend time outdoors. Why is it important that people today establish a relationship with the natural world?
Our environment provides more than recreation for us. It provides water, air, food, sunshine and much more. We can’t live without our environment but the environment can live with us.
You’re on the steering committee of the nonprofit organization Keeping It Wild. What can you tell us about that program and the work it does on behalf of environment?
“Keeping It Wild,” (KIW) an award-winning program of The Wilderness Society, involves leaders of local and national conservation organizations, academic institutions and recreation-focused groups such as the Georgia Conservancy, Georgia ForestWatch, Trees Atlanta, West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, Edge of Night Camping Club, Greening Youth Foundation, National Wildlife Federation, and The Conservation Fund. Over the past four years it has afforded hundreds of people around Atlanta the opportunity to explore and learn about the outdoors, with many participants returning on a regular basis. A Seminar Series — conducted in partnership with local universities — highlights the record of environmental work, scholarship and perspectives of African Americans and other people of color.
When people visit beautiful places and understand how an area is important to them/us “our environment” they will protect it and become better stewards of the land. If you have never snorkeled in the Conasauga River it may not be as meaningful to you to protect it http://tiny.cc/Snorkel.
“People protect what they love.’ – Jacques Yves Cousteau
You’re a finalist to receive a Cox Conserves Heroes grant. Why do you believe you are best qualified to receive this award? What do you plan to do with the money?
Keeping It Wild is small grassroots group of about 22 volunteers. And we would like to be in the position to do more outreach to the metro Atlanta area. The prize money would give us much needed funds for outreach. I would like to see more inner city families exposed to nature in their communities as well as the mountains, coast of Georgia and throughout Southeast or be able to visit a National Park or State Park for that matter.
Statistical and anecdotal evidence suggests that people of color, African-American’s Latinos and Asians, spend less time out of doors than their white counterparts. Why do you suppose that is?
#1 Fear of the unknown, stranger or animal.
Media has scared people into thinking that children may be abducted by a stranger. When the truth of the matter is a child is more likely to be abducted by someone the parent knows http://tiny.cc/statistics654.
Edge of Night Camping Club was organized to take families camping in a group setting to get people comfort with the outdoors in hopes that they will eventually go out on their own or take friends on their next outdoor adventure. One of our annual camping trips is “The Great American Backyard Campout” where we camp at a different Georgia State Park each year http://tiny.cc/GeorgiaParks. Edge of Night Camping Club featured on Georgia Outdoors http://tiny.cc/Camping283.
What role do you believe people of color can play in the preservation of the environment?
Mainly by protecting and loving your own community. Model communities for action…West Atlanta Watershed Alliance http://tiny.cc/OutdoorActivityCenter and Sustainable South-Bronx http://tiny.cc/SouthBronx
“You don’t have to move out of your neighborhood to live in a better one.” – Majora Carter
Tell us about yourself:
a. Where’s your hometown?
b. How old are you?
48 young years old
c. Are you married? What’s your spouse’s name? Occupation?
d. Do you have children? How many? How old are they? And what are their names?
Two adult sons and 40 Girl Scouts – Bryce 27, Matthew 23, and granddaughter Kylie Elizabeth 14 months.
e. What’s your degree of education?
I’m an administrative assistant with a passion for the outdoors!
Environmental past employers: Zoo Atlanta and Georgia Aquarium / Volunteer with Keeping It Wild, National Wildlife Federation, Outdoor Activity Center, Girl Scouts
f. Where is your favorite place in the world? Where do you find peace in your soul just being there?
I love islands, Ossabaw, Sapelo, and Cumberland Islands. No tourist traps for me. I like places where it is quiet whether in the forest at the Outdoor Activity Center in the middle of Southwest Atlanta or sitting atop a mountain having lunch i.e. Preaching Rock, Suches, GA. Nature is closer than you think!
g. What’s your favorite music? Style? Band? Performing artist?
I grew up listening to Pop (can’t believe I still know the words to most of the songs from my childhood). Pop, Jazz, Country, Reggae, R&B and old school, most anything. I really can’t name just one group or artist, Earth Wind and Fire, Arvel Bird, Sarah McLachlan, Darius Rucker, Wayne Brady, Prince, Parliament, Jill Scott, Ken Ford and of course Michael Jackson
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